The Biden administration has urged an appellate panel to uphold a judge’s order that prevents the elimination of requirements for health insurance plans which must include cost-free coverage of HIV-preventing drugs, cancer screenings and various other types of preventive care. Received by the three 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges in New Orleans, the appeal argued that enforcing the ruling could potentially jeopardize the preventive care options for the estimated 150 million insured individuals. Alisa Klein, arguing for the administration, said that the judge’s order should remain on hold during the appeals process.
The legal dispute centers around Obama’s signature health care law, known as “Obamacare,” which has been in force for over a decade. This concern has been raised over mandates contained within the law, and this is the latest legal skirmish regarding the matter. Jonathan Mitchell, arguing for the challengers of the law, said that a stay on the ruling would be unnecessary. He stated that insurers and employers providing employee health insurance would unlikely cancel their preventive coverage until the case is resolved as they would risk prosecution if they lose. Judge Leslie Southwick showed skepticism, stating that it would dangerously be a matter of speculation to gauge how insurance companies would react to this information.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling in March affected requirements for coverage driven by the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. O’Connor ruled that enforcing the recommendations violates the Appointment Clause of the Constitution, which sets out how government officials can be appointed, because the task force is made up of volunteers. As the appeals progress, the administration is not seeking to block immediate enforcement of the ruling as it applies to a few Texas plaintiffs who filed suit. Still, it should not apply to the millions of people affected nationwide, argued Klein.
It is worth noting that not all preventive care is impacted by the ruling. An analysis by the non-profit KFF foundation found that some screenings such as mammography and cervical cancer screenings would still be covered without out-of-pocket expenses because the task force recommended them before the health care law was enacted in March 2010. Judge O’Connor, who handed down the ruling, was appointed by former President George W. Bush and had previously ruled four years ago that the entire Obama health care law was unconstitutional, an opinion that was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Those suing the federal government in this case include a Christian dentist and conservative activist who oppose coverage for contraception and HIV prevention on religious grounds. The panel of appellate judges includes Edith Brown Clement and Southwick, also nominated by Bush, and Stephen Higginson, nominated by Obama. No immediate ruling has been reached on the case.